Marshfield, News

Vermont Conversation: Peace Activist Jules Rabin

photo by David Goodman/VTDigger
Peace activist Jules Rabin.

MARSHFIELD – Jules Rabin talks about his century of raising hell and raising bread, “One can’t look the other way when something dreadful is going on,” Rabin said.

Even if you don’t know Jules Rabin, there’s a good chance that you have seen him protesting or read one of his many letters to the editor or commentaries in local publications. Rabin is Vermont’s most tenacious and dedicated peace activist. He celebrated his 100th birthday on April 6 by asking friends to join him in downtown Montpelier to protest Israel’s war on Gaza.

Rabin grew up in Boston, the youngest of five children. His father worked in a junkyard sorting metal and the family struggled to get by. His experience living in poverty in a working class community during the Depression made him a lifelong crusader for social justice.  

Rabin attended the Boston Latin School, then went on to get a bachelor’s degree at Harvard and studied anthropology in graduate school at Columbia University. He lived in Greenwich Village where he met his wife Helen. In 1968, he moved to Vermont to teach anthropology at Goddard College, where he taught for nine years.

After Goddard downsized and he lost his teaching job, Jules and Helen started Upland Bakers, baking sourdough bread for 35 years in a wood-fired oven that they built. Their bread earned such a loyal following that a local store posted a sign to customers: “To prevent RIOTS and acts of TERRORISM, we ask you to please limit your purchase of Upland French Bread to no more than three loaves.”

Jules Rabin attended his first protest at the age of 8, and has protested wars in every generation. From 1960 to 1961, he participated in a 7,000-mile march from San Francisco to Moscow to promote nonviolence and nuclear disarmament. He spent years protesting against the Vietnam War, and in the early 2000s, just as the Iraq War was starting, he could be found in a weekly peace vigil in front of the Montpelier Federal Building in a protest that continued uninterrupted for nine years. Rabin, who is Jewish, has long protested Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

“How could the Nazi genocide of Jews 1933-45 be followed by the Israeli genocide of Palestinians today?” asked Rabin. He held a sign with a similar message at a recent protest. “I feel so strongly that what Israel is doing today to Palestinians so much resembles what Germans did to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and everywhere else in Europe and World War II. It’s kind of a pitiless wrecking of human flesh.”

Jules and Helen Rabin have lived in Marshfield in the same house for 56 years, where they raised their two daughters, Hannah and Nessa. They have three grandchildren.

I asked Rabin what keeps him protesting. “It’s not that I’m a morbid person always looking for the darkest corner of the room to squat in and be miserable in,” he replied. But he added, “One can’t look the other way when something dreadful is going on.”

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

David Goodman, VTDigger

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